How Can We Convince Doctors And Others That Our Pain Is Real?

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Question: Hi. I'm Judi. I have chronic pain in my knees and hips for about two years from unknown causes. And because you can't see pain, I think sometimes doctors and other people tend not to believe that the pain is real and how severe it is, and how can we convince doctors and others that our pain is just as real as something that can be seen?

Answer: Hi, Judi. Thank you for your question. You're correct; pain is impossible to see and it is a very personal experience. When you think about it, what takes us to the doctors' offices are symptoms like pain or fatigue, and none of those can be seen. What gets us treatment from doctors oftentimes are the signs of a disease process, those objective things that a doctor can measure, or quantify, or see on an X-ray -- will then prompt him to give you treatment. So there's an inherent mismatch here between the symptoms and the signs.

If you don't have any of those objective signs, now it's important to think about how you're going to communicate with your physician so that you get the treatment that you need. It's important to try and explain to the doctor all of your experience -- not just that you have pain, not just where that pain is or how severe it is, but also what other symptoms you might be experiencing with it. Help the doctor build a pattern around which he can make a diagnosis. Explain to him what difficulties these symptoms are causing for you in your daily life. How is it that they interfere with your ability to do the basic tasks of your day? And more importantly how is this a change from your baseline? In other words, you want the doctor to know you, your specific situation, what you're trying to accomplish throughout the day, and how these symptoms have an effect on you.

Then the doctor is more likely to hear your individual story, think about the pattern that's in front of him, and move forward looking at how to establish a diagnosis and how to give you specific treatments.

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